I can’t believe it took me so long to find her. I was in first or second year at uni when this came up on my set list. Oh my goodness. It completely swept me away. It remains my favourite Austen novel (along with P&P). But the romantic tension in Persuasion is certainly the most exquisitely excruciating of any book I’ve ever read. And it doesn’t matter how many times I re-read it, Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne – oh my heart – sweeps me off my feet every time.
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Just one more fairy tale before I move onto other books (I can’t promise there won’t be more later.)
by Robin McKinley
This is my own rather battered and much-loved copy of this beautiful tale. I first read it in high school after finding a copy of the hardcover in the library. I probably borrowed it and read it again at least four or five times after that. This book was an utter revelation. This wonderful, beautiful genius of a writer, this word-sorceress named Robin McKinley, had taken a fairy tale – my favourite fairy tale, no less – and turned it into a whole entire novel. I hadn’t known you could do that. It’s this book, more than any other, that made me want to be a writer and taught me what I wanted to write.
Tanith Lee is one of my favourite authors, and this is the book that kicked it all off for me. It absolutely taught me that fairy tales could be dark and luscious and very, very adult. These stories also taught me that fairy tales aren’t museum pieces, locked away in amber, forever preserved and unchangeable. This collection showed me how all the stories and motifs I loved in the tales I’d been reading since childhood could be fractured, tilted and tipped over to reflect new themes, or old ones in unexpected ways. Discovering this book was like being Alice and stepping through the looking glass to find a whole new world of fairy tales to explore that was just as rich and delightful as the world I was familiar with, but with new surprises around every corner.
I was a huge reader as a child. So naturally when I think about the 10 books that had the most significant impact on my life, I’ve gone right back to where I started falling in love with stories.
The Ordinary Princess
M. M. Kaye
I was given this book (with this cover) either for my birthday or for Christmas when I was 6. I still have it. 🙂
I think it might be perfect.
It’s a fairy tale (tick), but it totally subverts all the usual elements of fairy tales (tick) and does so with the most delightful, gentle-yet-slightly-snarky, understated humour (tick). It’s romantic (tick). It’s beautiful (tick). It’s got a strong, independent heroine who isn’t going to let other people’s expectations mess with her life choices (tickety tick tick tick). It’s got castles and forests and fairies (cranky ones) and climbing out of windows and running away…
This story absolutely set my ideal of exactly what a fairy tale princess is supposed to be.
There’s a Facebook thing I got tagged in recently, where you put up ten posts of books that have had a significant impact on your life. But I’m a multi-platform kinda girl, so here you go.
The Enchanted Wood
by Enid Blyton
This was the first chapter book my mother ever read me. I can remember sitting in bed, feeling nervous because she was holding a book that didn’t really have any pictures in it. It’s OK, she told me. There are a few. And she showed me the simple line drawings – maybe one per chapter – that seemed utterly inadequate to my four year old mind. I mean… there were whole pages in there with no pictures. How…? What…?
Oh my sweet summer child.
I have subsequent memories of sitting in bed begging her for just one more chapter PLEASE!!! And I’m pretty certain she ended up reading me the entire series more than once. Then I probably read it a few times myself.
This book is absolutely one of the flames that ignited my imagination. I’m sure I owe my fascination with forests to it. Also, it’s a sterling example of my favourite kind of fiction: stories set in an immersive world that is a character all of its own. Just thinking about it takes me back to leaning out the cottage window, seeing the trees with leaves of a darker shade of green than usual, and hearing the sound of their leaves rustling, wisha-wisha-wisha, as though they are whispering secrets to each other…
So here’s a thing I did this week! I got to chat to Rhianna Patrick on ABC local radio about The Beast’s Heart!
Here I am, all set up in the TARDIS at the Canberra ABC studios (that’s their pod for doing interstate radio interviews). Rhianna was lovely and we chatted for about half an hour about the book and writing and what I’m reading and what else I’m working on.
I went to the Cartier exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia today. Amongst all the *very* sparkly diamonds (so many sparkly diamonds) and pieces with fascinating stories attached (including Grace Kelly’s engagement ring; a massive duck-egg-sized sapphire that is part of a lost set of jewellery belonging to a Russian Grand Duchess and the tiara that both Queen Elizabeth II and Kate Middleton wore at their weddings, but NOT Meghan Markle, because it was here in Australia ), there was this, which I think was my favourite piece.
This cigarette case is decorated with an actual fragment of an Ancient Egyptian tablet inset into all those chunks of emerald. Imperialist tendencies to loot the antiquities of other civilisations aside, what a marvellous story prompt…
It’s about 10pm in the UK on Wednesday 2 May right now, but it’s early in the morning on Thursday, 3 May, here in Canberra, Australia. Which is an exciting day, because that’s the day the hardback of The Beast’s Heart is released in the UK.
Hodder are taking my Beast on a bit of a blog tour. Here are the dates!
And here’s a few pics of the launch here in Canberra last week, from my lovely colleague Amber O’Shea.
It went brilliantly. We sold every copy of the book. There wasn’t a single one left in the shop. James at Harry Hartogs closed off the RSVPs at 80, because he thought he could only fit about that many in the shop. As it turns out, he can fit about 120 people in the shop. (He was pretty happy with it all.)
My fave high school English teacher turned up.
It was a great night. Thank you to every one who came. I still feel giddy when I think about it.